From November 15 to 17, a delegation of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, led by Michael Frendo, Vice-President of the Commission, and including Simona Granata-Menghini, Director, Secretary of the Venice Commission, and Eirik Holmøyvik, Member of the Commission, is in Tbilisi for high-level meetings. The delegation has met with the President of Georgia, the Prime Minister of Georgia, the Speaker of Parliament, the leader of the ruling Georgian Dream, as well as with leaders of the parliamentary opposition and the Anti-Corruption Bureau Head. On November 16, the delegation held a press conference with Georgian media.
“On 22 September the Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia requested the Venice Commission’s opinions on certain laws concerning notably the election code, the Special Investigation and data protection Services and the Anti-Corruption Bureau, ” the Venice Commission said, adding that “the rapporteurs of the Commission are currently also in Tbilisi conducting meetings with stakeholders in the framework of the preparation of the respective opinions.”
Meeting with President
According to the Presidential Administration of Georgia, the meeting on November 16 between President Zurabishvili and the delegation touched upon the importance of Georgia’s EU candidacy, the upcoming Georgian elections in 2024, and the deepening of institutional cooperation, “including through the increased involvement of European institutions”. The President thanked the Venice Commission for its support of democratic processes in Georgia.
Meeting with Prime Minister
On the same day, the European Commission’s recommendation for Georgia’s candidacy was also on the table during the meeting with the Prime Minister. In addition, according to the Georgian government administration, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili thanked Secretary Simona Granata-Menghini “for the constructive cooperation and for the contribution made in the approximation of the legislation of Georgia with European standards…”
“As noted by Irakli Garibashvili, the country continues to advance on its journey to the EU in a significant manner and that it is vital to have an effective partnership with the Venice Commission within this process,” the government administration added.
Meeting with Parliament Speaker
On November 16, the Speaker of the Parliament, Shalva Papuashvili, also met with the delegation. “Both sides emphasized the importance of continuous communication between Georgia and the Venice Commission throughout the stages of drafting and adopting laws. The meeting also touched upon the reforms underway in Georgia, showcasing mutual readiness for continued collaboration,” the Parliament reported.
“We highly value the opinions of the Venice Commission on various draft laws that strengthen democracy and contribute to Georgia’s approximation with European standards. We stand ready to continue regular dialogue and meaningful exchange,” Speaker Papuashvili tweeted.
Meeting with Parliamentary Majority Leader
On November 16, the meeting between the Parliamentary majority leader Irakli Kobakhidze, and the Venice Commission delegation focused on the draft laws on which the Georgian legislature received the Commission’s recommendations.
“The Parliament of Georgia maintains an active and consistent collaboration with the Venice Commission, frequently forwarding draft laws for review. Notably, the Parliament of Georgia exhibits a high degree of adherence to the recommendations provided,” the Parliament quoted Kobakhidze as saying. “We are committed to sustaining this cooperative approach. Throughout the meeting, we specifically focused on various facets of our collaboration, with particular emphasis on matters concerning the judiciary and electoral affairs, engaging in in-depth discussions on these specific subjects,” Kobakhidze said.
Meeting with Parliamentary Majority
On November 16, Anri Okhanashvili, the Chairperson of the Legal Issues Committee, and Mikheil Sarjveladze, the Chairperson of the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee, met with the members of the Venice Commission delegation in Georgia, the Parliament reported. According to the same information, the discussion focused on the legislative modifications pertaining to the Election Code, on the Special Investigation Service and the Personal Data Protection Service.
“We have initiated a change related to the quorum for the election of CEC members, which has already passed the first reading. According to the amendment, CEC members should be elected with 90 votes; however, if this is not attainable, then it would require 76 votes. This matter has been forwarded to the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission for their assessment. Additionally, discussions encompassed legislative adjustments associated with the enhancement of the Special Investigation Service and the Personal Data Protection Service. They showed interest in particular details to facilitate the preparation of their conclusions,” Anri Okhanashvili said after the meeting.
Meeting with Parliamentary Opposition
On November 16, the delegation also met with the Parliamentary opposition representatives. “The Venice Commission sought the input of the opposition concerning pertinent matters related to the execution of the 12-point plan. They inquired about the opposition’s perspective on judicial reform and the functioning of the Supreme Council of Justice”, – Levan Bezhashvili, the First Deputy Chairperson of the faction United National Movement – United Opposition “Strength is in Unity” is quoted by the Parliament.
According to Khatuna Samnidze, Chairperson of the political group Reforms Group, “one of the primary topics of discussion revolved around the Election Code, which has undergone numerous modifications in the recent past. Additionally, the division of the State Inspector Service was deliberated upon.” Samnidze added that “the aim of their visit is to gather comprehensive information from both the opposition and the government to formulate specific conclusions based on this input.”
“We emphasized that the conduct of free elections in Georgia will serve as the primary benchmark for assessing the quality of our progress towards obtaining candidate status and subsequently for Georgia’s path towards accession to the European Union,” Khatia Dekanoidze, a member of Eurooptimists said, adding that “The final verdict of the Venice Commission on December 15-16 will encompass various aspects, including electoral reforms, the establishment of an anti-corruption bureau, alterations made to the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, and, in essence, the broader context concerning the conduct of free and democratic elections.”
“Three issues were discussed at the meeting. The first is the Election Code and, accordingly, the pre-election environment in the country. The second issue was corruption and anti-corruption activities, and obviously, everyone agrees today that the new bureau the head of which is appointed by the Prime Minister is completely dysfunctional. We also talked about the Special Investigation Service and the Personal Data Protection Inspector,” said Beka Liluashvili, chairperson of the For Georgia political group following a different meeting with the delegation.
The opposition representatives who met the delegation also included Fridon Injia, the Chairperson of European Socialists; Nika Machutadze, Chairperson of For a National and Democratic State; and Aleksandre Rakviashvili, member of Girchi; opposition MP Tamar Charkviani, Chairperson of the Law and Justice party.
Meeting with Anti-Corruption Bureau Head
On November 15, 2023, the Head of the Anti-Corruption Bureau met with representatives from the Venice Commission Secretariat. “dialogue centered around the Bureau’s structure and its principal directions. Emphasis was placed on the Anti-Corruption Bureau’s strategic insights and goals within the anti-corruption arena,” the Head of the Bureau, Razhden Kuprashvili wrote.
“The Venice Commission has come to Georgia to show its commitment to Georgia and to the continued improvement of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Georgia and Georgian society,” Michael Frendo, the Vice President of the Commission said at the press conference on November 16. According to him, during the meetings with the Georgian officials, the parties “have also spoken about the importance of the recommendations which the Venice Commission gives in its opinions.”
Fredo noted that the Commission gives an indication and the Georgian authorities are to find ways to meet those indications. “We also indicate specific red lines,” he added. The Vice President said the Venice Commission will continue to support Georgia on its European integration path by offering opinions.
Simona Granata-Menghini, the Secretary of the Venice Commission, reiterated the Vice President’s statement that the recommendations of the Venice Commission “are not binding per se…but we do set red lines.” According to the Secretary, “these red lines are based on standards which are obligatory” and stem from the institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights or from the European Convention and the instruments that constitute hard law.
“Electoral reforms, judicial reforms, they are key reforms for a country and it is necessary that they should be shared to the extent possible,” the Secretary said while answering a question regarding whether there are concrete directions in which she sees the more need of those “red lines.” She added that “we believe the process is important, the responsibility of the decision is with the authorities, but the process requires consultation.”
“Judiciary, elections – these are areas where we normally consider that the trust that the people must have in these reforms also requires a process,” Granata-Menghini explained, underlining the importance of “loyal cooperation of institutions.”
“When we talk about, in particular, in previous opinions on the judiciary and the electoral system, we have mentioned that we would like to see holistic reform. And by that we mean not small changes in individual rules, but we want the Georgian authorities, the majority, the opposition, to take a look at the whole system,” Eirik Holmøyvik, Member of the Commission added.
When asked about the Venice Commission’s negative assessment of Georgia’s draft law on Deoligarchization, the Commission Secretary noted that “the Venice Commission considered that the undue influence of money in the democratic processes should not be dealt with in a law that targets people [ed. specific individuals]…We said what was needed was a systemic approach.”
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